The Golden Age of Cocaine Wine • Higher Occasions


Every single Friday, we’ll be republishing an write-up from the Higher Occasions archives. This week, we’re bringing you an write-up by John Groff, published in the August/September, 1975 challenge.

3 centuries following the European discovery of coca leaves, their wonderful properties have been nevertheless normally unknown. Then, in 1859, Paola Mantegazza, an eminent Italian neurologist, published “On the Hygienic and Medicinal Coca Virtues of Coca.” This monograph extolled the virtues of coca in the practice of medicine and inspired widespread interest in coca leaves.

By the mid-1860s, Europe and America have been deluged with cocaine preparations, and a terrific social experiment of freely seasoned cocaine was below way. By the 1890s coca was enjoying a phenomenal reputation, offered everywhere in an astonishing assortment of types: tonics, elixirs, wines, liquors, lozenges, teas, cheroots, and far more. The top figures of the Victorian age — medical doctors, scientists, churchmen, prominent politicians, artists, singers, composers, even kings and queens — enjoyed coca and publicly endorsed it with enthusiasm. Certainly coca was a main stimulant of gaiety in the Gay Nineties.

The man behind this phenomenon was Angelo Mariani, a Parisian pharmacist whose spécialité was an exquisite coca wine referred to as Vin Mariani a la Coca du Perou. Born in 1839 in Corsica, from a extended line of physicians and chemists, young Angelo was studying pharmacy in Paris just as the coca fad started. As a student Mariani dreamed of someday making a terrific spécialité. Destiny placed in his hands a little brochure on coca. He plunged into experiments mixing coca with alcohol and ultimately came up with a “tonic” mixture of fine Bordeaux red wine liberally laced with an extract of very carefully chosen coca leaves.

About this time Dr. Charles Fauvel, a noted throat specialist, befriended Mariani. Almost all of Fauvel’s sufferers have been opera stars, the Nineties’ equivalent of today’s rock stars. Fauvel was convinced that coca wine had a soothing, tensing impact on the vocal cords, and 1 day sent a rasping vocalist to Mariani.

“It is great,” mentioned the star following sipping a sample. “You will send me a dozen bottles.”

The opera star’s order forced Mariani to start production. With Fauvel’s recommendation, his coca elixir was quickly the rage amongst opera stars. So Mariani opened a little apothecary shop, exactly where he sold nothing at all but his specialty, coca wine in seventeen-ounce (half-liter) bottles. According to Dr. W. Golden Mortimer, master historian of coca, Vin Mariani was the very first and only coca preparation to accurately reproduce the taste and effects of the fresh coca leaves of Peru. Dr. Mortimer devoted his history of coca use to Mariani, “A Recognized Exponent of the ‘Divine Plant’ and the very first to render coca offered to the planet.”

To Dr. Mortimer, Mariani’s refreshment was a miracle. In his words, “the superb qualities of Coca remained locked as a scientific mystery unsolvable by the multitude till it was lastly released from its enchanted spell as by way of some magic touch of a contemporary Merlin.”

Mariani, in Coca and Its Therapeutic Applications, wrote, “Vin Mariani includes the soluble components of the Coca plant. The mixture of Coca, with the tannin and slight traces of iron which this wine naturally includes, is pronounced the most efficacious of tonics.

“The fresh Coca leaves that we employ, following cautious choice, come from 3 unique sources and are of incomparable excellent. It is this that offers to our wine that specific taste and agreeable aroma which renders it so acceptable to the sick.

“It is likewise to the mixture and preparing of these 3 varieties of Coca leaf in our wine that we can attribute this vital reality: for the duration of far more than thirty years, no matter in how substantial doses taken, Vin Mariani has by no means developed cocainism, nor any other unpleasant effects.

“Vin Mariani is a diffusible tonic, the action of which is instant. This action, rather of getting localized on a single organ, the stomach, spreads to the entire program. Taken into the circulation, it awakens in its course the retarded functions of every single organ, and this is owing to the presence in our preparation of the volatile principles of the plant.”

With magic in every single bottle of his wine and his personal charismatic character, Mariani quickly located himself surrounded by a sizable constellation of stars and influential people today from practically every single sector of society.

Mariani’s wine flowed in the veins of royalty and anarchy, patient and medical professional, genius and common, popes and rabbis, atheists and mystics, Decadent artists and performers of every single persuasion and perversion.

Paris in the Nineties witnessed the flourishings of the electric light, les Décadents, impressionist and symbolist poetry, and drugs. The Decadents, as they unabashedly liked to contact themselves, formed an esthetic subculture of a handful of thousand artists and intellectuals, several of them preferred musicians and performers. Describing the group in Dreamers of Decadence, Phillipe Jullian compares their peculiar look and use of ether and morphine to the way of life of today’s “hippies.” Sarah Bernhardt was without the need of query the most immortal of the Decadents, and Vin Mariani wine permeated her circle as substantially as the Decadent philosophy.

But Vin Mariani was praised by devoted Decadents and vociferous anti-Decadents alike. By the 1890s, Mariani’s wine had overflowed the cup of arts and letters into the arena of politics and energy. It was a decade of agonizing political turbulence. Phillipe Jullian writes: “The Church was losing several of its faithful … the bourgeoisie, terrified by the Commune, was locating it not possible to recapture the sense of safety it had recognized in the middle of the century even though higher society felt ashamed of getting enjoyed itself also substantially below the Second Empire…. As the century drew toward its close, a feeling of uneasiness became apparent in every single class of society…. There was a worry of the finish of civilization, a sort of millennium whose destructive forces would no longer be the angels of the Apocalypse, but either Socialism or the Machine, or the Yellow Peril.”

Engravings from Les Figures Contemporaines, from the Collection of the Fitz Hugh Ludlow Memorial Library

To survive, Parisian politicos relaxed with Vin Mariani. Amid the worry and loathing of the decade came the notorious Dreyfus Affair, the Watergate of 1894. Notable figures on each sides of the case have been Vin Mariani imbibers, such as Anatole France, Émile Zola, Manuel Prévost and Henri Rochefort.

When Mariani died the newspapers listed marketing innovations as his most vital contribution to history. But his principal approach came about completely by accident when he started to acquire a lot of spontaneous endorsements from prominent personalities of the day.

In 1895, the publication of the very first volume of Les Figures Contemporaines sent shock waves by way of the marketing planet. Thirteen handsome editions of Vin Mariani endorsements have been printed on the finest paper and integrated a delicately etched portrait of each and every notable, collectively with a quick biography and some individual expression of gratitude to Mariani—a poem, a sketch, a handful of stanzas of musical composition, a bit of prose. These endorsements have been by no means paid or bargained for in any way.

Strangely sufficient, Vin Mariani was so properly established by then that it required no endorsements, given that Mariani did not care to woo a bigger mass marketplace. The terrific pharmacist refused to expand operations beyond the limits of his individual supervision. In truth, the wine earned its reputation solely on its personal merits — regularly higher excellent, dependable effectiveness and an quickly recognizable sensation on the tongue.

Vet Mariani was barraged with so several endorsements that he had to limit their inclusion in his album. Naturally sufficient, Mariani’s tonic was also drunk and lauded by main religious leaders. Dr. Mortimer remarks that Pope Leo XII maintained his ascetic retirement with a by no means-empty vial of Vin Mariani strung from his neck. Pius X, various cardinals and prelates of other faiths, and even the Grand Rabbi of France are integrated amongst Les Figures Contemporaines. “A contemporary prayer. We no longer say ‘Hail Mary,’ we say ‘Hail Mariani’,” wrote playwright Émile Fabre in his personal endorsement.

In their turn, European royalty joined in the praise. The kings of Spain, Greece, Serbia, Sweden and Norway, the Prince of Morocco and the Shah of Persia all drank coca wine and endorsed it. Queen Victoria asked for and received a comprehensive set of Les Figures Contemporaines, which she cherished.

Meanwhile, stateside, Vin Mariani simply located its way to the Oval Workplace. President McKinley’s individual secretary, John A. Porter, sent Mariani a thank-you note “on the President’s behalf.” The sculptor who designed the Statue of Liberty, Frederic- Auguste Bartholdi, loved Mariani’s wine also.

Maybe even far more astounding to some Americans, Thomas Edison also endorsed Vin Mariani. Edison pretty much went to South America after, but missed the boat in New Orleans. Who knows what the inventor of motion photographs and the phonograph may have gotten into had he produced that boat?

Right here are but a handful of of the accolades supplied to Mariani and his wine.

Thomas Alva Edison: “Monsieur Mariani, I take pleasure in sending you 1 of my photographs for publication in your Album. Yours incredibly genuinely.”

Sarah Bernhardt (actress): “I have been delighted to uncover Vin Mariani in all the substantial cities of the United States, and it has, as generally, largely helped to give me that strength so required in the overall performance of the arduous duties which I have imposed upon myself.”

Émile Bergerat (poet, dramatist): ‘‘One glass of Coca Wine for an write-up, and two glasses for an aquarelle—that’s my dosage. But the genuine genius is at the bottom of the bottle.”

Lillian Russel (actress): “I have located Vin Mariani a pleasant stimulating tonic and I continually suggest it to my fellow artists.”

Alexandre Dumas fils: “Mariani, your sweet flasks delight my mouth.”

Jules Verne: “Since a single bottle of Mariani’s extraordinary coca wine guarantees a lifetime of a hundred years, I shall be obliged to reside till the year 2700! Effectively, I have no objections! Yours incredibly gratefully.”

H.G. Wells drew two small cartoons of himself, just before (slouching and depressed) and following (radiant and elated) drinking Mariani’s wine.

Sully-Prudhomme (poet, philosopher): “You rejuvenate faces by at least a quarter of a century.”

Edmond Rostand (playwright, author of Cyrano de Bergerac): “I generally preserve a flask on my perform table.”

Camille Flammarion (founder of the French Society of Astronomers): “Solar rays in bottles.”

Anatole France: “It is correct that Mariani’s coca wine … spreads a subtle fire by way of the organism.”

Charles Gounod (composer of symphonies and operas): “To my very good pal Mariani, advantageous revealer of this admirable coca wine from Peru, which has so frequently restored my strength.”

Louis Bleriot (the very first aviator to fly the English Channel, in 1909): “I took the precaution of bringing a little flask of Mariani wine along with me, and it was a terrific assist. Its energetic action sustained me for the duration of the crossing of the Channel.”

In spite of the widespread reputation Vin Mariani enjoyed in its day and the thousands of renowned people today who endorsed its use, the fine wine is utterly forgotten currently. Amongst the other coca-drinking lights of the fin-de-siècle period have been playwrights Henrik Ibsen, and Victorien Sardou, actress Lillian Russell, opera stars Augusta Holmes and Enrico Caruso, artists Auguste Rodin and Felicien Rops, composer Camille Saint-Saens, and William Butler Yeats’s peripatetic lover, Maud Gonne.

How did Mariani reside with this outstanding results? What did he do with all the dollars? Generally the gourmet and fond of throwing substantial dinner parties, Mariani entertained a salon of notables in his lavish Valescure villa with its Edenesque grounds. He cultivated coca plants “simply for amusement” in a greenhouse at his Neuilly residence. The ceiling of the living area was reserved for an allegory painted by his pal Eugene Courbin: The Goddess Bringing the Branch of Coca to Europe.

In all his business enterprise affairs — he produced a fortune pretty much in spite of himself — Mariani was the perfect coke dealer. Georges Regnal, who published a biographical sketch of Mariani, describes him properly:

“There was by no means any sign of servility in this shop. One particular felt that the ‘dealer’ did not exist, only a man who spontaneously empathized with even the slightest trouble of whoever entered his threshold.

“In the evenings and on holidays, after his storefront was closed, he would go back upstairs to his residence and turn into after once again the enchanted wanderer, the lover of the beauty of life. Forever distracted by a thing or other, he would smoke on the terrace amongst his roses, leaf by way of books classifying the functions of the poet and the artist he could have turn into himself had he selected to express himself so. Currently he preferred to stay the discrete amateur. Currently he was getting the canvases of heavily indebted painters … and generally enlarging his hospitality.”

Dubbed the “Propagator of Coca” in his personal time, Mariani became a living legend. But the secret formula for Vin Mariani died with him in 1914, ironically the very same year that Congress in the United States passed the Harrison Narcotics Act, producing cocaine illegal.

These days a further coca-derived drink, a pale imitation of Vin Mariani, sets the pace of the contemporary age. We are told to “relax,” “pause” and “refresh” with mass marketing’s answer to Angelo Mariani’s bracing elixir. Here’s to the Parisian pharmacist and a time when issues did go far better.


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